A Kink Primer

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I am frequently asked questions about kink, or BDSM. Folks wonder what makes it appealing–the extremes in sensation, the feeling of dominating or being submissive, the power and trust one gives to another? They are confused about whether BDSM and fetishes differ and, if so, what those differences are. They ask if orgasm is always a part of a ‘scene’. They say they now read more about kink than was true even five years ago—is it growing in popularity? Who does this stuff anyway?

It does appear that kink is gaining in popularity. Research suggests that 10% of the adult population are S/M practitioners. It may be that the actual numbers haven’t much changed, but our public recognition of BDSM has. Then again, as we speak more openly about alternative sexualities, more people may feel free to experiment and find they like them. Could be a combination. Whatever accounts for it, kink does now seem to occupy an accepted place at the sexual banquet table.

Why do people like it? Not all do, but fans list a variety of reasons. Some find the theatrical aspect arousing while others find security in the clarity of adopting a sexual role. Some find riding the wave between pleasure and pain transforms both into a highly erotic sensation attainable in no other fashion. Some relish the certainty of trust required in power exchange situations while others are simply sensation junkies. Some delight in the taboo of breaking rules of sexual decorum while others find heightened arousal in watching and listening to others test their physical and emotional limits in (semi) public settings.

Role playing is sometimes on the evening’s roster; other times not. Ditto sensation play, bondage, costuming, genital sex. What is always present is prior communication and negotiation, and this is elementally different from many sexual encounters that do not involve kink.

This discussion makes evident the players’ intention to engage in sex (whether genital or not). Everyone takes responsibility for what is about to happen, in effect saying, “I want to share this experience with you. What can we do to make it as wonderful as possible?”

This communication sets kink apart from the sort of dizzy, romantic sex modelled in the media where star-struck people fall into bed after little or no discussion about what they want or what their expectations are. In kinky play, each participant must acknowledge their own desire, so uncommon with our social attitude of sexual silence and our wish to be swept away rather to enter into sexual activity willingly and responsibly.

Put another way, I say I like to do this particular activity, and you respond that you like that very activity done to you. Perfect! We have a fine little interlude guaranteed, without the burden of hoping/pretending that we will walk into the sunset together. Our evening is intimate and powerful, whole unto itself. Sexuality is valid for its own sake, joyously and unapologetically. The preferred term for such sexual activity is “play,” indicative of the attitude of the “players.”

For those already in intimate, committed relationships, the intensity of BDSM can deepen those ties even further. It is no small gift to trust your Top with your pain, knowing they will transform it into pleasure. Likewise, the magicians who perform such alchemy do so with confidence and care for their bottoms.

What about orgasm? While kinky sex is definitely erotic, it is not always genitally focused. Sometimes ‘traditional’ sex will follow a scene, or a scene may morph into sexual comingling, but not always. They are apples and pears. Both delicious fruit, but different.

Let’s take care of some definitions. BDSM stands for: BD=Bondage and Discipline, DS=Domination and submission and SM=Sadism and Masochism. The whole lot comprises kink. We each get to choose whatever we like from any category, mixing and matching to suit our erotic composition and the opportunity at hand.

Fetish is a bit different. Fetish involves being turned on erotically by an inanimate object. Some common fetishes are high heels, leather, PVC, shiny metal. Then again, fetishes may be unique and completely individual. We use them to heighten our arousal in sexual situations or to signal our erotic intent. Unless our fascination with our fetish object(s) overshadows our interest in our sex partner(s), they are useful additions to our fantasy repertoire.

The more information we have about BDSM, the less stigma it carries. We conjugate the verb thus: I am erotic, you are kinky, they are perverted. And of course when we experience things for ourselves, we can evaluate them with less judgment.

Kink includes everything from holding down your lover’s hands during a spirited screw to suspending them ball-gagged from the rafters. It’s all okay as long as all the players are having a good time. It’s a long Canadian tradition that what we do in our bedrooms is our own business.

BDSM is about where we fit on a continuum of intensity, which depends on a number of factors. You can learn more by attending a munch, a workshop, or a public party. Talk to others. If you’re keen, add this new item to your sexual menu.

– adapted from a column originally published in XtraWest